New York city schools want to ban 'loaded words' from tests
"Dinosaur" is among the words New York CIty is looking to ban from tests, apparently over concerns it could bother creationists.
March 28th, 2012
07:19 PM ET

New York city schools want to ban 'loaded words' from tests

By Brian Vitagliano, CNN

New York (CNN) - Divorce. Dinosaurs, Birthdays. Religion. Halloween. Christmas. Television. These are a few of the 50-plus words and references the New York City Department of Education is hoping to ban from the city’s standardized tests.

The banned word list was made public – and attracted considerable criticism – when the city’s education department recently released this year’s "request for proposal" The request for proposal is sent to test publishers around the country trying to get the job of revamping math and English tests for the City of New York.

The Department of Education's says that avoiding sensitive words on tests is nothing new, and that New York City is not the only locale to do so. California avoids the use of the word "weed" on tests and Florida avoids the phrases that use "Hurricane" or "Wildfires," according to a statement by the New York City Department of Education.

In its request for proposal, the NYC Department of Education explained it wanted to avoid certain words if the "the topic is controversial among the adult population and might not be acceptable in a state-mandated testing situation; the topic has been overused in standardized tests or textbooks and is thus overly familiar and/or boring to students; the topic appears biased against (or toward) some group of people."

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Matthew Mittenthal, a spokesman for the NYC Department of Education, said this is the fifth year they have created such a list.  He said such topics "could evoke unpleasant emotions in the students."

"Dinosaurs" evoking unpleasant emotions? The New York Post speculated that the "dinosaurs" could "call to mind evolution, which might upset fundamentalists.”

But what the tabloid failed to realize is that those "fundamentalists" who oppose evolution on religious grounds, believe wholeheartedly in dinosaurs.

Young Earth creationists, or Biblical creationists as they prefer to be called, often point to dinosaurs in making their arguments.  They say dinosaurs and humans roamed Earth together, citing legends of dragons and say the fossil record shows the earth is 6,000 years old, though few paleontologists and geologists share this theory.

At the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, the heart of the Young Earth Creationism movement, dinosaur models and exhibits fill the museum displays and gift shop.

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Apparently many of the words on New York’s list were  avoided because of faith-based concerns.

For instance, the use of the word "birthday" or the phrase "birthday celebrations" may offend Jehovah's Witnesses, who do not celebrate birthdays. A spokesperson for the Jehovah's Witnesses declined to comment on the use of the word "birthday."

The Department of Education would not go on the record to explain the specific reasons for each word, which has left many to speculate and draw their own conclusions.

Halloween may suggest paganism; divorce may conjure up uneasy feelings for children in the midst of a divorce within their family. One phrase that may surprise many, the term "Rock 'n' Roll" was on the "avoid" list.

Piers Morgan's "Only in America": 50 banned words

And not good news for Italians: the Department of Education also advised avoiding  references to types of food, such as pepperoni, products they said "persons of some religions or cultures may not indulge in."

The Department of Education said, "This is standard language that has been used by test publishers for many years and allows our students to complete practice exams without distraction."

Stanford University Professor Sam Wineburg is an expert in the field of education and director of the Stanford History Education Group.

When reached by phone said Wineburg, after a brief pause on the line, "the purpose of education is to create unpleasant experiences in us. ... The Latin meaning if education is 'to go out.'  Education is not about making us feel warm and fuzzy inside."

Wineburg questioned the idea that the New York City Department of Education would want to "shield kids from these types of encounters."  He said the goal of education is to "prepare them," adding "this is how we dumb down public schools."

CNN's Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Church and state • Education

soundoff (3,780 Responses)
  1. Dave K

    Stanford Professor says the meaning of Educate is "go out" – WRONG the meaning comes from ex -out ducere -to lead. so to lead out.
    Seems the downward trajectory of educational standards in the States started a while ago

    March 30, 2012 at 7:54 am |
  2. Alex

    Wow, so now we are pretending that dinosaurs and pepperoni dont exist? How could that possibly be important to a student?
    Whomever is being paid a salary with taxpayer money to think like this should be summarily fired

    March 30, 2012 at 7:54 am |
  3. Jean

    I am not a proponent of over protecting kids. However, the ban is on tests, not in the classroom. If we want to accurately test what they have learned, we need to do it in an emotionally neutral (for the kid) way. Otherwise, the test won't be accurate and is waste of time.

    March 30, 2012 at 7:53 am |
    • Adam

      This is just not true. In a work situation, when you are under pressure, like a kid is while taking a test, are you ensured a neutral situation in which no possibly offensive words are used? I am sure as hell that you aren't ensured that, kids need to learn how to deal with discomfort in stressful situations.

      March 30, 2012 at 8:25 am |
  4. jfchrist

    when will the book burning begin?????????????

    March 30, 2012 at 7:53 am |
  5. Splishkid

    Crocs, alligators, sea turtles all existed 200 million year ago also– maybe these words should also be banned ? The logic in this proposal is well- illogical. So the teacher would describe the previously referred to animal as a " reptile that...." without referring a name to it ?.... Don't these administrators have better things to do with their time than conjuring up such a ridiculous proposal? Maybe the word tree should be banned since flora has evolved over hundreds of millions of years .
    Why the word dinosaur???? Someone help me here.........is our society losing it?

    March 30, 2012 at 7:52 am |
  6. jfchrist

    if that "bothers" someone,then so be it.stop crying.

    March 30, 2012 at 7:52 am |
    • Mikee

      I totally agree!!!! Way too much of this mamby pamby crap.

      March 30, 2012 at 8:00 am |
  7. Andrew

    I hear some fools saying this is coming from conservatives. I've never met a conservative that cried about language not being PC enough. Where are these fools being educated, New York.

    March 30, 2012 at 7:47 am |
  8. Wanfuforever

    This doesn't promote sensitivity; it promotes weakness. It is calculated to make people dependent on government to make everything better. What happens when these words are said outside of class?

    March 30, 2012 at 7:46 am |
  9. Andrew

    Actually the Latin meaning of education is 'to take out of'.

    March 30, 2012 at 7:46 am |
  10. ratfacedgirl

    This shiz wouldn't fly in Pennsylvania.

    March 30, 2012 at 7:42 am |
  11. augustghost

    yes once again pander to the few oversensitive cry babies....what are these kids going to do when they get out in the real world and some one says "dinosaur"...is the weatherman going to be prohibited from saying "hurricane" also? Just when you think this country has hit an all time stupidity level, it just does it again

    March 30, 2012 at 7:40 am |
  12. Mongo

    Banning words promotes ignorance, which is not something an EDUCATION system should be doing. Politically correct garbage.

    March 30, 2012 at 7:39 am |
    • Jean

      To be fair, however, they are banning the words on tests, not in the classroom. It is a good idea to create as level as neutral a playing field as possible if we want to accurately test how much a child has learned.

      March 30, 2012 at 7:50 am |
    • Mhàrtainn

      Jean – So the way to test knowledge is to limit the information pool available to test? Seems a bit counter intuitive.

      March 30, 2012 at 8:05 am |
  13. Frank Ricard

    We are rapidly becoming a country of over sensitive p*ssies. When China goes on its inevitable military rampage down the road, they will roll over us so easily.

    March 30, 2012 at 7:39 am |
    • steve in texas

      I like how you censored a word in your post

      March 30, 2012 at 8:02 am |
  14. myvoice2012

    well there goes freedom of speech people,

    March 30, 2012 at 7:35 am |
    • augustghost

      this generation of kids will be even bigger cry babies than the current one...freedom of speech is a myth in this country

      March 30, 2012 at 7:42 am |
  15. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 30, 2012 at 7:35 am |
    • Ronald Hussein Reagan

      Dimmest, most unfoundedly judgemental comment I've read in awhile.

      March 30, 2012 at 7:37 am |
    • Mirosal

      I'd bet that YOU agree with what's trying to be done in the article?

      March 30, 2012 at 7:38 am |
    • please open your eyes

      I'm a religious guy but come on... Prayer can't change the fact that dinosaurs existed or that divorces happen.

      March 30, 2012 at 7:58 am |
  16. Jim

    The idea here is not to ban words but to eliminate test bias. The idea here is to test a child's abilities and not their cultural knowledge. A child who has recently come to the US from asia may not know what "Halloween" is, thus using this in a question stem in a standardized test is not appropriate.

    March 30, 2012 at 7:34 am |
    • Mongo

      Then he'll just have to miss that question.

      March 30, 2012 at 7:37 am |
    • scir91onYouTube

      i have a response for that. you are in MY country i tell the kid. learn the values of your new home and of generations past or go back to your third world piece of garbage. we didn't force you to come here. love it or leave it.

      March 30, 2012 at 7:42 am |
    • xeno

      My son doesn't use his left hand well. All tests should then be written to eliminate anything that one would need their left hand for, otherwise it's biased. You see? Not writing questions that assume knowledge about complex sports rules is one thing, eliminating words, and common ones at that, is just too far.

      March 30, 2012 at 7:43 am |
    • Mikky_H

      I would hope they know what a Dinosaur is, though. Besides, cultural misunderstanding can be identified in a test. This is just PC gone mad!

      March 30, 2012 at 7:43 am |
    • johnb

      If that were really the reason, the list would be much longer. Have you looked at the list? It's clearly much more about political correctness than cultural bias.

      March 30, 2012 at 7:45 am |
    • Billy

      Maybe he should LEARN what Halloween is? Hmm, there's a concept. Learning.

      March 30, 2012 at 7:46 am |
    • Wanfuforever

      When did we teach about Halloween in class? Why *isn't* it good that we teach about dinosaurs? And with our skyrocketing divorce rates, what is going to save the children and their fragile little egos from reality?

      March 30, 2012 at 7:48 am |
    • Jim

      But you see the test is not valid, your not testing them on the subject unless the test is about Halloween.

      March 30, 2012 at 7:51 am |
    • Jim

      Ok...I see...none of you have taken a Educational Methods class. You don't get it. Its ok....

      March 30, 2012 at 7:52 am |
  17. BobC

    We are doomed.

    Whether from the right, who would control our bedrooms or the left that would control our words, we are beset with irrational ideologues that would form our lives into simulacra of their twisted realities without ever acknowledging the intrinsic hypocrisy of forced compliance.

    March 30, 2012 at 7:32 am |
  18. pmoore40

    As a US History teacher, it is becoming harder and harder to do my job daily. I am supposed to teach about our great country, when everyday, our country is showing more signs of "not" being what it was. I've never had a student be offended when I teach of certain topics, ie: slavery, Puritans, immigration, etc. It's getting harder and harder to teach our future about this country, when all they see and hear is "don't offend anyone". Sagging (low pants) offends me highly but I don't see any organization forming a national campaign to start fining and arresting for it!!!! Get with the program people. These so-called "do-gooders" need to stop looking out for my "best interest". Go back to school, repeat US History, and learn what this country is about!!!!.

    March 30, 2012 at 7:28 am |
    • Jim

      If you are a history teacher than you know all about testing bias. Why would you want to test children on their knowledge of what
      "pepperoni" is in a history class? That is called testing "validity". You learned about this in your Education classes, didn't you?

      March 30, 2012 at 7:39 am |
    • scir91onYouTube

      pepperoni is not on the test though, is it? and the teacher is mentioning historical topics that ARE valid for the student to know. dinosaurs ARE valid to know for the sake of science. birthdays ARE valid to know for the sake of american culture. the list goes on.

      March 30, 2012 at 7:44 am |
    • Jim

      Read the article again more carefully...

      March 30, 2012 at 7:57 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Funny enough – Since 2007, sagging pants have been against the law in Delcambre, La. The style carries a fine of as much as $500 or up to a six-month sentence. In Mansfield, you can be fined $150 or given up to 15 days in jail.
      I've always maintained that should I win the lottery, I'm going to hire a cadre of very large men to escort me around downtown while I straighten people's baseball hats for them.
      It's supposed to keep the sun out of your eyes, dammit! And take the price tag off all ready!

      March 30, 2012 at 8:19 am |
  19. Em

    Why worry when the old repubs are dinosaurs.

    March 30, 2012 at 7:27 am |
  20. Randy O

    Of course dinosaurs and people co-existed. Anyone who has ever watched the Flintstones can tell you that!

    March 30, 2012 at 7:27 am |
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